Estimates suggest more than 100 million people now pay to stream music, and Spotify alone has a further 70 million non-paying customers.
If you’re one of those 170 million people, how did you choose the streaming music service you currently use? What factors did you consider before signing up? For most people, the research probably stopped at “price.”
However, there’s a lot more to consider than simply the cost, especially most music streaming services charge the same amount. Spending the time to make sure you’re using the best service for your needs can pay off: you’ll get more enjoyment out of the service and you’re less likely to cancel your subscription.
But how do you know whether you’re using the right music streaming service?
The most important part of any music streaming service is the music itself. That’s why you’re paying for the service in the first place.
It’s easy to think that the biggest providers in the industry are all rather similar. After all, if they have millions of songs in their libraries, how different can they be? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
Make sure the music library matches your own musical tastes. For example, Spotify is well-known for making it easy to discover smaller bands and upcoming artists, while Apple Music has quickly established a reputation for guiding you towards the biggest names in the music world.
Also, pay attention to what type of music the service specializes in. The likes of Spotify and Google Play Music offer a broad selection of all genres, but there are plenty of niche services out there as well.
Lastly, pay attention to which bands and artists don’t make their music available. For a long time, you couldn’t find any of Prince’s work on Spotify, Taylor Swift is missing from most services, Jay-Z has pulled his iconic album, The Blueprint, off Spotify in a bid to lure users to Tidal, and country star Garth Brooks won’t license his Ropin’ the Wind album to anyone.
As the battle for users heats up, some services are starting to offer “artist exclusives.” New albums are being pre-released on a particular service, sometimes months ahead of both the public release and the release onto other platforms.
The most famous example of this so far is Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. West released the album on Tidal and encouraged his fans to download the app so they could hear the music. The campaign worked. Tidal was the most downloaded app in the US App Store in the months after the release. It took six weeks for the album to land on Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. That album still hasn’t been released as a physical CD.
I really need 'The Life of Pablo' but I absolutely refuse to download Tidal.
— Ezra. (@ezratrose) March 10, 2017
Since West’s album, more artists have signed similar contracts. Drake’s Views, Frank Ocean’s Blondes, and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book were all Apple Music exclusives, while Beyonce put her Lemonade on Tidal.
Some people won’t be able to tell the difference between a high-fidelity track and a 128 Kbps song they downloaded off Napster in 2001. If you’re listening through regular headphones, it will be near impossible.
However, if you’re an audiophile with an expensive smart speaker system installed strategically throughout your home, you’ll easily be able to tell the difference. Therefore, you need to subscribe to a plan with high-quality audio.
Tidal is the most well-known high-fidelity music streaming service, but it’s not the only option. If you have a Sonos system, you can subscribe to Deezer Elite, which encodes the music in FLAC (16-bit and 1,411 Kbps). You can also check out Qobuz and OraStream.
In contrast, setting Spotify’s streaming quality to High (Edit > Preferences > Music Quality) only gives you 320 Kbps. While this will be more than enough for most people, true audiophiles will be disappointed.
Don’t forget one of the most important considerations for a lot of people: offline listening. If you like listening to music while you’re traveling or driving, you need to be able to save music onto your device so you can slash your data usage. It also means you can keep listening if you’re in an area with poor network coverage.
Some basic plans (such as Spotify Free) don’t offer offline listening. Some require an additional subscription beyond the standard price (like Deezer) and some don’t offer the feature at all.
Passive or Interactive Usage
Streaming services can be broadly split into two categories: on-demand music and AI-inspired customized radio.
Several people don’t want to be micromanaging music all day every day. If you’re working in a shop or an office, you might want to put something on in the background and leave it. You won’t want to worry about skipping tracks, getting to the end of a playlist, or managing queues. If you fall into that category, perhaps you should consider Pandora or iHeartRadio instead of Spotify.
Additionally, consider the number of playlists available. For example, Spotify’s age combined with its high user numbers means there are millions of user-generated playlists to choose from — a lot more than you’ll find on rival services.
Spotify also leads the way in getting music icons to make personal playlists. For each genre, you can find countless offerings made by the biggest artists. It’s a great way to stay abreast of the latest sounds in your favorite field without investing too much time in music discovery.
While music remains the most important consideration, there are plenty of other aspects of any given music streaming service that you need to investigate before signing up.
Let’s discuss some of the practical issues you should think about.
You won’t find much difference in price between the various services if you’re a single user who wants access to the full package. The biggest players all charge around $10 per month for access. Some charge more for additional features and higher quality music.
However, dig a little deeper, and you can find some great bargains and discounts.
For example, Spotify offers a family plan for $14.99 per month. It will give access to you and five family members, each of whom will have their own Spotify account. Google Play Music offers an identical package for an identical price, as do Tidal and Apple Music. The biggest providers also offer student discounts, some as much as 50 percent.
If you want to stray away from the mainstream and subscribe to a specialist service, you’ll struggle to find similar discounts.
How Can You Listen?
Make sure you’re going to be able to listen to your music in your preferred way before you make a decision. These days, most services offer a web app along with both Android and iOS releases. But there’s more to think about.
For example, if you have a Sonos system (or you’re thinking of buying a smart speaker), is there an integration for your service of choice? If there’s not, you’ll need to own a Play:5 or Sonos Connect to be able to plug in your phone or computer manually.
Perhaps Chromecast Audio is your speaker system of choice. If so, can the smartphone app cast to the dongle? If it can’t, it’ll be impossible to listen to your songs wirelessly.
Where Can You Listen?
Lots of services are location-dependent. You won’t be able to sign up to a plan if you live outside a supported region, but what happens if you spend a lot of time traveling to an unsupported region?
This is more common than it appears. Spotify is unavailable in much of Eastern Europe, so someone who spends a lot of time going from west to east will frequently be cut off. Similarly, Google Play Music is available in Australia but lacks support in much of Southeast Asia.
Surprisingly, there is not as much crossover between countries as you might think. Apple Music is available in 54 countries where Spotify doesn’t operate, while Google Play Music operates in South Africa and Russia, unlike Spotify.
We’ve all used poorly-designed apps at some point in our lives. They can leave you ripping your hair out in frustration. If you’re using the app every day, dealing with serious annoyances can be enough to make you cancel your subscription.
No two people will use a music service in the same way, so you need to decide which part of the user experience is most important to you. Do you want it to be aesthetically pleasing? Is function more important than form? Do you need easy access to a particular feature?
Some services excel where others fall short, so the biggest piece of advice we can give you is to do your research before committing to a particular streaming music service.
Try Before You Buy
As you can see, there is a lot of things to consider when you’re considering which music streaming service is right for you. Don’t be swayed by advertising and flashy graphics. Make a list of what is important to you and do thorough research into your options.
Remember, almost all the services offer a free trial. If you’re undecided, sign up for the trial and use the apps in the real world for the duration. It will quickly become apparent which music streaming service is right for you.
What else is important to consider when you’re choosing a streaming music service? Has this article inspired you to switch from one service to another? As always, you can leave your ideas and opinions in the comments below.
Image Credits: Kues/Shutterstock